The recent announcement that Poco would cease to be as a touring and recording entity after 40 plus years is not a huge surprise to most people who assumed they’d broken up years ago and at this point it was really only Rusty Young (the sole original member).
This news has put me on a Poco listening binge. I’ve always liked them (and I’m talking about their period as an actual band late 1960’s up until Timothy B. Schmit left in 1977). Their brand of country rock was more like country pop and seemed to have less effort involved than other more legendary groups/performers like the whole Gram Parson Flying Burrito Brothers Axis. True, it was simpler and less heavy and had less deeper meaning but they wrote songs in a genre that didn’t really exist fully yet with confidence. And when I say wrote there were a number of talented singer songwriters in the band, an embarrassment of riches.
Here is my breakdown of their discography by preference (or at least the records I’ve ever heard). I am very honest so there is some criticism here but at their best they were an excellent band in every way.
PICKIN’ UP THE PIECES
Their debut is still my favorite record by them. Fresh and catchy, this is just as close to power pop as country with a pedal steel guitar replacing a Rickenbacker. Richie Furay and Jim Messina were calling the shots as this was what they had envisioned after Buffalo Springfield ended. Furay in particular is at the top of his game here. His vocals are beautiful as are all the harmonies. My favourite tracks – Pickin’ Up The Pieces, Make Me A Smile, Short Changed, Nobody’s Fool, really all of the songs.
HEAD OVER HEELS
2nd’ fave, their 8th studio album, and best of the foursome years – Rusty Young, Paul Cotton, Timothy B Schmit, George Grantham. I’m not sure they meant this as three out of the four members sing and write here separately but this has always felt like a concept album to me with the subject the beginning, middle period, and end of a relationship. The order of the songs back this up with their individual meanings and the relationship might also be with a place or a feeling itself not necessarily another person. Every song is sharply delivered and the whole thing melts together seamlessly. The highlights are all three of Schmit’s songs (although he wrote and sang less than Young or Cotton he was the best songwriter and singer in the band at this point). Also noteworthy are their spirited cover of Steely Dan’s Dallas (which fits in with the theme) and Young’s Loving Arms.
A GOOD FEELIN’ TO KNOW
All three Furay compositions on this record are excellent (especially the title track which is one of his best tunes – relentlessly catchy) as are both Schmit songs (I Can See Everything would be a competitor for best Poco song of all time) and a slowed down more rocking version of the Stephen Stills Buffalo Springfield number Go and Say Goodbye. The three Paul Cotton tunes don’t get in the way too much.
This is the problem. Jim Messina left Poco after their second album (see further down) and was replaced by Paul Cotton. Now Cotton is a versatile guitarist who can really solo. He also had a slightly deeper voice that the other members of the band and worked well in the harmonies besides singing his own songs. The problem is he is a dull songwriter with really unoriginal lyrics (often about cowboys and the South) which is funny considering he is from Illinois. With two other songwriters, he is kept to three or four tracks a record which is okay and this record has a couple of his best tunes including Western Waterloo. It also contains a front runner for my favorite Rusty Young Tune Sagebrush Serenade (amazingly complex and haunting) and another classic Schmit ballad Whatever Happened To Your Smile?
ROSE OF CIMARRON, INDIAN SUMMER
A bit too much Paul Cotton drags down the proceedings but both these records feature some classic tunes. THE ROSE OF CIMARRON’s title track (written by Young) and INDIAN SUMMER’s Downfall (also by Young) as well as its title track (by Cotton and featuring some of his best guitar work) plus all the Schmit compositions on both records are classic. Jury’s still out on the nearly nine minute suite of songs by Young that end INDIAN SUMMER. Something to do with a dance but with very pretty string arrangements at least.
CRAZY EYES may be Poco’s strangest record. It’s their fifth studio record and last with Furay who seems obsessed with Gram Parsons here penning a 9 minute + long moody orchestral masterpiece about him (the title track) and also a completely unnecessary cover of Brass Buttons. There is also a boring equally unnecessary cover of JJ Cale’s Magnolia. To balance it out, there is an excellent Schmit song and couple good Young tunes. The two Cotton songs are not bad this time around either. And just to restate the title track despite its length is excellent.
FROM THE INSIDE
I’m not sure the source of the problem with this record. Six out of the ten songs are by Furay and are simple catchy pop tunes. The title track is one of the first solo compositions by Schmit and is excellent and the three Cotton songs are not bad either (especially Bad Weather). However, what really damages the sound of this record is instead of Poco’s usual semi-electric country rock pop, we get something akin to Crosby, Stills, and Nash, acoustic guitars everywhere and muted percussion downplaying the normally excellent George Grantham’s drumming. The result is lifeless and forgettable. Perhaps producer Steve Cropper is the problem(as I’ve read a few times) – I don’t know. A shame as the songwriting is good here.
The first album Poco made as a foursome after Furay left is also their worst as a foursome. I can only assume that the commercially successful sound of the dreaded Eagles forced everybody to lose their heads momentarily. Every song (even the three Schmit songs) is swamped with whiny slide guitar. It seems like everyone is yelling when they sing too. I hardly listen to this record.
Their second album starts off well. The first six songs are all good. Furay is looser and more electric than the first record. There is a nice cover of Dallas Frazier’s country standard Honky Tonk Downstairs. I’ve never been much of a Jim Messina fan but You’d Better Think Twice is one of his best tunes of all time. However, all that is forgotten after the 18 minute loose jam that ends the record. It is pointless, boring, and sounds made up on the spot. Poco is not exactly prog rock. I can only assume they rushed into the studio too quickly after their first album and didn’t have enough songs to complete the record.
Not a big fan of live albums of which Poco has made several. This is the only one I’ve heard. Nice version of Kind Woman, the Furay Buffalo Springfield song that got the whole Poco country thing rolling. There are a few songs here not on any studio recording. Messina has some nice lead guitar work.
A few further Poco works....
THE YOUNG/COTTON YEARS
After Schmit left, Young and Cotton made a number of records as a duo with various other faceless musicians. Of these, I have only heard LEGEND and UNDER THE GUN. Both were fairly awful as Poco had now turned into Air Supply. LEGEND at least has the band’s sole hit Young’s Crazy Love which is instantly memorable but both records are synthetic devoid of inspiration filled with clichéd lyrics and mundane arrangements. I have not heard any other music the duo made but imagine they are the same.
In 1990, the original five members of Poco (Furay, Messina, Young, Grantham, Randy Meisner) reunited or were reunited by the record label for a record. Don’t be fooled this is product with the Poco name on it not an actual Poco record. A number of other studio musicians are listed on various instruments and a lot of the songs are collaborations with outside songwriters or completely written by outside songwriters. The good parts – Both Furay co written and sung songs are good as are the three Young tunes. The bad parts – Three songs by Messina is three songs too many and Meisner who only played bass on the first album then left the band sings three songs (one by Richard Marx! L ). Rather odd that Meisner gets to sing three songs whereas the founder of the band Furay only gets two. Meisner’s voice has aged well though and has power.
ALL FIRED UPLast year, Young working with his touring band made what is most certainly the last Poco album and it’s pretty good. Young as a songwriter has loosened up a bit and become very creative. He is capable of both a beautiful ballad like Regret and a half-comic rocker like Neil Young. If in fact this is the end for Poco, it’s not a bad way to go out.